KwaMashu residents speak out

Durban - Sipho Khumalo's* amputated feet and missing left eye tell a story of an attack that changed his life forever.

From the scars on his face, it is clear that his attackers were going for the kill. The KwaMashu resident, north of Durban, told SAnews that the incident happened some seven years ago.

“I happened to be in the room when they came for my friend, who was a community activist during the allocation of housing at the time. They just burst into the room and attacked us,” said Khumalo.

Khumalo relived his story during a government visit, led by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha, on Tuesday, held under the theme ‘Taking Government to the People’.

“No arrests were ever made although everyone in the area knew the attackers,” he said, checking the coast to see if any community members were listening to our conversation.

“I do not want to be seen talking to people from outside the area, especially in this volatile climate,” he said, referring to Sunday’s shooting of four men at Block 192.

It is understood that a group of approximately six people entered the block, forced the victims to lie on the ground and executed them. The motive isn’t clear, as the killers took nothing from the room.

A special provincial task team has been set up to investigate the killings while police say they are following positive leads.

“Such incidents are common around here. You can just hear ‘bang bang!’ out of the blue. It’s how things have always been for as long as I can remember.”

Khumalo says even though some criminals are arrested, the justice system is slow to prosecute the criminals.

Once known for notoriously high murder rates, KwaMashu has been a hotspot for political violence and crime since the early 1990s. Most sections of the township have been stabilised but the men’s hostel is still considered a high risk by the police due to killings in the area.

“There is change but it is very slow. Maybe by the time the area normalises, I will be long dead,” Khumalo said, shrugging his shoulders.

He attributes the problems of the area to the high unemployment rate, congested hostels and slums, as well as tensions with regards to the allocation of houses.

The area’s problems prompted the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster to bring their community outreach programme here to engage with the community directly.

What’s eating the community?

Minister Masutha told SAnews that interactions like this affords the community an opportunity to engage with government directly about their burning issues.

“We are able to gage what the public’s perceptions of the criminal justice systems are.”

The delegation visited the hostel and the scene of Sunday’s shooting before engaging with the community at the local sport grounds.

At the imbizo, the community raised the issue of drugs, lack of opportunities for youth, illegal guns as well as service delivery issues like housing.

According to one community member, the new drug known as “Mercedes” is making the youth turn to crime.

“I can attribute drug usage to boredom. If government can defeat that through youth projects, we could maybe change,” he said.

With regards to youth challenges, Minister Masutha said the message should be made stronger that “resorting to drugs and crime is not the solution”.

Minister Nhleko said tackling drugs is not only a police matter. “It involves other departments and needs community engagement.”

Fear and mistrust

The community also raised issues around lack of trust between the community and police.

“Although we report crime, the police in turn go to the criminals and inform them that so-and-so reported you, and they end up coming from you,” one resident told the imbizo.

“We have as the community identified the source -- it is corrupt officials. We need to get rid of them before we can move forward,” he told the cheering crowd.

Government called on the community to continue reporting crime, making a commitment to work harder to get rid of corrupt officials.

“We have heard your call… I assure you that the officials are doing their best to fight the scourge of organised crime in the area… We call upon you to continue to report crime. These perpetrators will be brought to book,” said the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shaun Kevin Abrahams.

Minister Nhleko said what makes things bad for the area are the living conditions.

“When we deal with issues of crime, we should also deal with the socio-economic conditions of the area, hence we are emphasising on a multi-disciplinary, coordinated approach so that we can find lasting solutions to the problem.”

The Minister said the cluster will continue to step up the efforts to deal with crime and criminal elements. This, he said, needs to be coordinated with the local structures like the municipality, Community Policing Forums and NGOs.

“The solution does not lie purely on policing. We need a broad based approach because if you don’t deal with issues of social development on the ground, we will still have a problem so police capacity is not the only problem.”

The cluster assured that government is working around the clock to rid communities of crime. However, they also emphasised the need for an active citizenship.

This was the third such visit to troubled communities by the cluster. They have visited Nyanga in Cape Town and northern areas of Port Elizabeth. The cluster has planned more visits to such communities in future.